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Honens International Piano Competition

Website: https://www.honens.com/

How Honen’s International Piano Competition were able to pre-sell 35%+ passes 9 months ahead of their Calgary Event

Background – Since 1992 the Honen’s International Piano Competition has attracted the world’s leading artists whose piano skills fall into a category considered to be the “complete artist:”

  • A thoughtful interpreter, a consummate collaborator, an awe-inspiring virtuoso, a communicator, a risk-taking explorer.
  • A pianist who expresses and interprets ideas from a wide cultural context and keen imagination through performances and programming choices that are informed and seasoned by a fascination for life outside the practice studio.
  • An emerging artist whose distinctive voice, versatility, and ease clearly demonstrate the level of preparedness and mastery necessary to embark upon a professional career.

Over the years, Honens had secured international news media support in places such as Germany, France, Italy, New York and beyond.  This global reach to an audience with an interest in outstanding performers in music such as this competition meant the in-house team had a planned series of outreach steps to reconnect with their strong relationships in media.

Calgary’s Honens International Piano competition was held only once every three years, and news of the upcoming event would potentially reach patrons from nine years ago, as well as their family members.

Outlining the strategic approach

Understanding the Goals and Identify the Intended Target Audience – My team at In the Public Eye and I were approached by Michelle Stanners and Janet Bwititi from the Honens International Piano Competition to see if we would undertake a  PR Initiative to increase awareness, attendance and sales for their upcoming event.

It was late spring of the year the fall competition was planned for and there was an expressed desire to bring concert and piano lovers from Edmonton to Calgary for this 10-day event and expand awareness of the competition throughout the city.

With only a few months ahead for this International Event to take place at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary – https://artscommons.ca/rentals/venues/jack-singer-concert-hall/, I knew we needed to focus on audiences who already appreciated piano competitions and concerts as well as those who were:

  • Close followers of the Honens International Piano Competition, and past attendees
  • Calgary Philharmonic season ticket buyers
  • Winspear Centre – https://www.winspearcentre.com/ arts patrons in Edmonton who might venture to Calgary to see the competition
  • Piano teachers and their students in both cities
  • Theatre patrons and arts lovers at both the Winspear and Jack Singer Concert Hall

First Steps –  A strategic alliance with the Fairmont Palliser hotel in Calgary with Travel Alberta to provide an exclusive rate for not only international travelers, but also to earn the Destination Marketing Investment support to accommodate Edmonton patrons was part of the initial strategy.  Incorporating an outdoor advertising campaign that would combine some digital and other print ads which would be visible on the back of Red Arrow and Greyhound buses transporting commuters between Calgary and Edmonton meant the visibility for Honen’s International Piano Competition would be seen by potentially more than 15,000 commuters every week.

The next step in our proposed strategy involved a direct mail and telephone campaign to all attendees who had enjoyed the Honen’s Piano Competition from these most recent 3 events.  A personalized letter, an exciting brochure to outline the benefits which would be extended exclusively to past patrons along with a map illustration of VIP advance seating choices.

Follow up calls to this “inner circle” was designed to be a highly personalized exchange in person-to-person telephone outreach.  After the follow up calls, additional printed information, email correspondence and another call in 2 weeks’ time assured patrons they were a priority for the organizers. A live seating and online floor plan help patrons visually notice how quickly ideal seats were sold and disappearing from the screen.  This scarcity and urgency helped to amplify interest by those closest to the long-awaited, once-in-every-three-year event.

I recommended strengthening the collaboration between the festival and the decision-makers at the Jack Singer Concert Hall by supporting Jack Singer Events in mentions through social media and in promo mentions in personalized emails to patrons who were being contacted.  When concert events with a nearly sold-out audience would be taking place at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, I suggested Honens International Piano Competition be present in the lobby offering CD’s, a television that could run the visual film footage from previous year’s award-winners and Laureates on a loop.  This would attract attendees to the Jack Singer over to their table to gain a better understanding of the competition and interact directly with highly informed employees and volunteers from Honens prior to and during the intermission of these events.  The ability to immediately purchase tickets to the 10-day festival at these events added to the momentum for advance 10-day Festival Pass sales.

Training the young employees at Honen’s how to express gratitude for their patron’s support and offering each of these people an exclusive and time-limited offer to purchase advance tickets to the 10-day event elevated awareness and loyalty – not to mention a great deal of excellent word-of-mouth excitement from piano lovers around the world who were contacted by these employees and assisted with details on transportation options from the airport to the Fairmont Palliser Hotel.  Associating Honens with the Internationally recognized Brand of the Fairmont Hotels intentionally set the stage for the caliber of experience visitors could expect.

Advertising for the Honens International Piano Competition was recommended for the Masters’ Show Jumping event out at Spruce Meadows- https://www.sprucemeadows.com/tournaments/ – in the late summer months.  Affluent families who attend cultural events also buy box seats and participate in various ways at the Spruce Meadows series of horse-jumping events every year and making the Piano Competition highly visible with banner signage, a table of information and the ability to purchase tickets from those remaining seats available was another arm of the strategy proposed.

Numerous recommendations were provided for the staff & volunteers to pursue – including the expansion of an Open Piano – an initiative where by Steinway upright black pianos would be acquired and then Branded with Honens logo to be placed in high traffic public places so that everyone could use the piano and learn about the upcoming Piano Competition, how to become involved or how to make a meaningful difference with Honens in 2015. Printed materials were recommended to be in a covered plastic sleeve on the side of the piano to educate and inform passers by of this upcoming event.

There were other aspects to the event which included television, print and radio but our support was exclusively directed to this aspect of the campaign.

Results: More than 35% of the 330 passes were sold 9 months ahead of schedule, which we understand was an unprecedented achievement for Honens in that year.  We understand nearly every performance was sold out in advance of the date the performer took to the stage.  It was an honour to contribute to their success.